It's been a little while since I've blogged about Morocco but I have oh-so-many more images to show, and stories to tell. For this shoot, we again started at Zouina Cheval near Essaouira but instead of staying on the stable property, we headed off to some nearby ruins - a palace built by Mohammed ben Abdallah.
It was a tricky shoot. The light was still pretty harsh, creating deep shadows within the ruins, and flat skies. I struggled with being able to show the horses at their most beautiful while capitalizing on the texture and history of the location. Using a wide angle lens to include the ruins made the horses too tiny to see but using a longer focal length omitted too much of the context of the ruins. The horses were also a little bit afraid of being up so high on crumbly, uneven footing. I can see that uneasiness in most of the images we made at the ruins.
I finally chose the lead image in this post. This image was made towards the end of the shoot in the ruins and the dappled grey stallion had achieved a bit more comfort. He even started to look around a bit. I love the turn of his head and the strong point of his ears which help create a triangle shape in the middle of my composition. We also had a little bit of good sky happening and just a touch of sun highlighting him.
While it's popular to do in equine photography, I didn't clone out either the lead or the halter. Safety is always a factor when photographing horses. I don't want to forget that and I don't want you to forget it either. That lead and halter represents the human who is insuring that horse's safety. I think that's an important piece of information for all of us to keep in mind.
By the time we had walked from the dunes down to the beach, the sun was dropping quickly and we were shooting right into it. I can't even begin to tell you how much I love that sort of light. Not so many years ago, I used to worry about blown highlights and making sure every tone or color was in range, and not blown out. I don't worry about any of that anymore. As I walk the photographer's path, I realize that while we're taught early on not to blow highlights or block up our shadows that none of that leads us to crafting our own style or creating a personal vision.
The image above is all about gesture. If I'd been worried about blown highlights while I was shooting, I may not have truly seen this moment. When I break it apart, I can tell you that I love the bit of wind blowing through their manes, the sunlight highlighting the arch of their necks and the loops of the lead lines that echo that shape. Mostly though, the image just makes me happy and more and more, I think that's what this vision thing is all about.
I've overexposed this third image and I love it. I've also left it in color because of the warm orange glow of the late sun, though it has a monochromatic feel to it. Look at the red highlights shining through his tail and mane and the way the light wraps around his face and head. I can feel that day at the beach when I look at this happy stallion romping in the sand.
I have a whole series of these running-in-the-water images. It seems like such a romantic notion for a shoot. Ahh, let's run through the water at sunset and get lovely reflections of the horses! Frankly, most of my images are hysterical. First the horses wouldn't move, then they would move but only when the handlers pulled on them, which means they're all awkwardly stretching their necks and extending their heads. Eventually the exhausted handlers were practically being drowned by water that's too deep.
You all know I have a thing about the horse/human relationship and this one image showed that. The horse is finally starting to give in and run a bit and the handler's position is perfect. He's running along - almost like he's modeling the behavior he wants from the horse - but also looking back to check in. With the silhouette making both figures a little anonymous, the reflection and the late glow of the sun, I felt I'd found my last winner from this shoot.
If I were to share any tips with you about shooting at the beach with horses - or a difficult shoot anywhere that isn't coming together as planned - it would be this:
- Keep trying. Not getting what you want can have a paralyzing effect. Don't stand still and dully shoot the same thing over and over, hoping it will improve.
- Change your position. Move left, move right, drop low onto your belly or climb a hill. Don't worry what everyone else is doing. Dance yourself around till you get the shot that is meaningful to you.
- Use the light differently. I was recently shooting with a photographer who was nigh on hysterical with me since I was shooting into the sun. She wanted me to shoot with the sun at my back, as she was doing. She grumbled that I was wasting "the good light." I kept shaping my images with the light that I preferred and you should too.
- Be open minded when you review your images. Think outside the box. Maybe you were looking for Hallmark happiness and you got zombie apocalypse. Can you make it work? If not, chalk it up to experience and move on.
What's Up Next?
- Shooting at the Selman Stable in Marrakech
- A few more posts on Morocco
- Lots of posts on making equine images in and around Chicagoland